Disaster reactions- the ostrich position or porn
I've been curious about recent articles concerning two types of reactions to the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. In the first case, the story of compounded grief is turning people away, unable to cope with the scenes of misery that are broadcast everyday. The alternative is then any kind of escapist fare, which is one explanation of why movies like Wedding Crashers and the 40 Year Old Virgin did so well at the box office in an otherwise crappy year for theatres. Another sign of this is this Mediaweek article: Newsweeklies See Soft Single-Copy Sales. Note this particular sentence: "There's so much going on in the world- war, floods, famine- that the celebrity stuff is providing more vacation-type reading." So basically, the news magazines are getting clobbered in sales compared to the celebrity weeklies which feature 'soft news.' That isn't to say that no one is concerned (millions of people are still reading Newsweek, Time, etc. or watching CNN) but this kind of ostrich mentality (you know, bury your head in the ground) isn't easy to scoff at. You watch some of the newscasters at the scene of the disaster and more and more, you notice not just how tired they are but also angry and disgusted about how thousands are people are suffering for no good reason. How does a rational person try to cope with that day after day and remain sane?
A friend who was visiting from the Midwest this past weekend told me that she was having the same kind of feelings. She said that after 9-11 and Iraq War and now this, it's hard to maintain shock endlessly to these events. I'm sure some people will think that's callous but she did have a point, especially when you're not directly effected. Having seen the World Trade Center collapse in the distance and not on a TV set, I have no doubt that 9-11 is seared into my brain permanently but for someone who wasn't here, maybe it's not the same thing, even if you see the images replayed on TV again and again.
That replaying or extending of a story leads to another type of viewership. As the Post Gazette notes in Desperation, death make compelling television, the cable news channels have reaped rating rewards for their constant coverage, which some media observers have dubbed "Storm Porn" (Christ, what a stupid term). Note this particular passage from Professor Robert Thomspon about how a natural disaster is covered:
And that's the part which is simultaneously fascinating and disturbing. But in the end, what would we have these outlets covering otherwise? Another celebrity trial? Given the choice, I'd rather learn and hear more about what's happening in New Orleans, what's been done to help the people there and what still needs to be done.
"They start with the blustery, breathless reports that a hurricane is coming, and then when the storm hits the reporters go out there in the wind, and then, inevitably, there's the aftermath, with the extraordinary photos of damage and the interviews with people who are going to leave.
"But Katrina is different," Thompson said. "You are seeing not just the usual post-storm aftermath, but the spectacle of a complex, technologically dependent, civilized society, New Orleans, totally breaking down before your eyes.
With regard to that, one thing that's helping to give hope to the city is its rich cultural heritage. Many benefits and resources are being set up by and for musicians to help. A fine article at Salon (New Orleans Rising) notes the many efforts being made as well as a stalwart point that many of the musicians who relied on local gigs will now have to tour for a while to make their living- in other words, go out and support them when they come to your town.